Some of the most upbeat, major key arrangements in blues music can still back some of bleakest yarns, ranging all the way from heartache to institutionalized oppression. So even if the traditional scales and chord changes behind with this landmark genre may not appeal to everyone, its anguished lyrical standards will always present a primitive yet therapeutic option for an artist in pain, no matter their main stylistic preferences. Take for example relative newcomers Ash and the Endings and their eponymous frontwoman Ashton Chase, whose compelling contralto crosscuts between Patsy Cline, Dusty Springfield, and Karen Carpenter. This Austin five-piece offers up harmony-heavy alt-rock with cinereous traces of psych and indie, placing them approximately in the same pack as Dr. Dog, The Cranberries, and Paramore. And last June, Ash and the Endings’ debut self-titled EP showed off a ton of range on a seven-song set, illustrating a mastery over slow, fast, loud, and soft. But after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the opportunity to unabashedly share opinions on the poisonous patriarchy that permeates throughout the Lone Star State was too poignant to pass up for Chase. And what better avenue to express that than the blues? You’ll learn more about that inspiration in an upcoming article for Sidecar Junkaroo, but sonically, this follow-up to spring’s “Austin Flower Co.” hears Ashton’s typically tame vocals take on more of a tortured Janis Joplin-esque moan, similar to what we’ve already heard on “Shake Shake” and “Woman (It’s Up To You)”. Between that and its straight-ahead blues rock approach, “Squelching Sneaks” shows how capable this quintet is when it comes to expanding their idiosyncratic formulas to fresh-yet-familiar territories. And since we’d far prefer splashing in puddles over protecting paws from scorching pavement right about now, go ahead and lace up “Squelching Sneaks” and put it on repeat.
For even some of the most talented, well-established artists, working with a new producer can really shed some divine light on sonics and take things to the next level. And there’s plenty of proof in today’s premiere from Marcus Morales. Both solo and alongside his backing band The Chorizo Grease All-Stars, this singer-guitarist has been developing his distinctive variety of ambient-psych-blues-rock and busting his hump here in Austin for the past decade and a half. Morales made his studio debut with two tunes in the summer of 2017, that, when paired together, really illuminate mastery over the light/heavy dynamic spectrum in Morales’ song structures and carefully orchestrated arrangements. That tasteful contrast really shined on Marcus Morales’ 2019 debut EP Bohemian Groove, albeit with a more-refined, harder-hitting sound. Recently, after flexing immense A Momentary Lapse of Reason vibes on last January’s “Headspace”, Marcus Morales has enlisted the help of producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith at The Bubble to glow up an already-great track. This precedes plans for a whole new string of singles on top of statewide tour stops and local residencies, all of which ought to feature Morales in top form. And today, Frenchie, Morales, and The Chorizo Grease All-Stars blew us away with “Damned If You Do…”, whose hard-blues-rock second-and-third act structure channels Johnny Lang, but whose processed lead guitar tones and sultry intro scream David Gilmour. As a result, this fine-polished psych-blues blend transcends decades and genre tastes for one of Morales’ strongest standalones to date. It’s not really a Catch-22; just go ahead and click “play” on “Damned If You Do…”.
When the phrase “piano man” comes up, we think of one song and one song only. Which is kind of a bummer, because there are some truly incredible performers who fit the bill here in Austin that frankly put Billy Joel to shame. Among the mightiest on the ivories like Red Young, Dr. Joe, and D-Madness, there’s also the relatively young Nik Parr. The thing about Nik is that he’s not only mastered double duties on vocals and piano, he also manages to juggle some sax in there too, all without breaking a sweat. Along with his outfit The Selfless Lovers, Nik’s stayed up to par with Austin’s longstanding legacy as a hub for blues rock. But true to their title, The Selfless Lovers go above and beyond by touching on erogenous zones of classic soul, southern, and funk, positioning their style basically wherever listeners want it the most. And although it may not sound as sexy as all that, The Selfless Lovers latest LP Promised Land stems from Parr’s mid-twenties post-stroke revelations. A spiritual reflection on the American Dream, Promised Land is best enjoyed front to back across twelve tracks in its 48-minute entirety. Parr promises a payoff if you do so, but if the live scene is more your vibe (which is good, since The Selfless Lovers average at about one gig every 2-3 days), you’ll want to take part in a live concert filming tonight at The Continental Club. Henry Invisible warms the crowd at 9:30, Isaac Sloane wraps things up at midnight, and The Selfless Lovers take the stage at 10:30PM. Need a solid commuting track to help you get there? No problem. Like a cut song from the original Miami Vice TV soundtrack, “So Far Gone” soars with yacht-rock keyboard stabs, jazzy chord changes, some nice disco drum upbeats, and oh yeah, an appropriately-’80s-style sax solo square in the middle.